ITM Cup - Round 5 Review
Wellington keep pressure on Southland
August 29, 2010

Wellington notched a come-from-behind 31-28 win over a feisty Northland in Wellington on Saturday to climb to second in the table.

Beaten 41-7 by Wellington last year, Northland took the direct approach at Wellington every chance they got today to build a 25-10 lead at half-time. All Blacks winger Rene Ranger produced a breathtaking sampling of his power and pace to set up two of Northland's tries. His midfield burst and offload to Aaron Bancroft produced the first try then he manhandled his talented opposite Julian Savea like a rag doll before relaying the ball to flanker Dean Budd to dot down.

And suddenly, Wellington, who scored in between through hardworking centre Shaun Treeby, were staring staring at a 5-18 deficit with Northland fullback Lachie Munro also potting a penalty and a conversion. Wellington closed the gap when Savea also showed his class to weave his way through the Northland defence for Victor Vito to score an unconverted try. But Northland sneaked farther ahead when Budd robbed Vito of the ball and flopped over the tryline for Munro to add the extras.

Savea could not long be denied and the lanky winger put Wellington back on the rails with a try of his own early in the 55th minute after his side had weathered another series of stiff jabs from Northland. The try of the match came not long after. First five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili wriggled and twisted like an eel past four tackles from inside his 22m and from his offload to lock Jeremy, the ball moved to Hosea Gear who then released Vito for a lenght of the field try.

Fili's conversion brought Wellington within one-point but Munro then kicked a penalty to take the score to 28-24. Wellington's forwards took their chance in a late drive upfield to pin Northland down in deep defence, finally breaking through prop John Schwalger whose try was converted. Munro had a chance to tie the scores in the dying minute but his kick from 35 metres was wide and Northland went home with a bonus point for finishing within seven points while Wellington took the five-point win for scoring more than four tries.

Elsewhere on Saturday, normal service was resumed for Canterbury as they constructed a clinical 35-16 win over Auckland in Christchurch. Sixth on the table going into the match, and with only one win from four games, the defending champions were in desperate need of a victory.

Fly-half Colin Slade opened the scoring with a regulation penalty in the fourth minute before hooker Corey Flynn sabotaged Auckland at the breakdown. From turnover ball, returning halfback Andy Ellis kicked behind the Auckland defence. Auckland winger Charles Piutau lost his footing and the ball, and Canterbury rookie lock Luke Romano was on hand to pick up and dive over for the try.

Four minutes later, New Zealand U20 winger Telusa Veainu destroyed a promising Auckland attack with a superbly timed intercept, which left him with a 40m saunter to the tryline. As the half progressed, Auckland finally managed to get ball in hand, but had only two Matt Berquist penalties to show for it, one a particularly fine 45 effort. Right on the half-time hooter, Canterbury added another Slade penalty to go into the break 18-6 ahead.

Slade and Berquist exchanged penalties as the second half opened, then the match settled into something of an arm-wrestle until a brilliantly placed Ellis grubber kick found the rampaging Robbie Fruean, who touched down between the sticks. With just over 10 minutes remaining, elusive fullback Sean Maitland crossed for the bonus point try, although Auckland flanker Onosai'i Auva'a bulldozed over for a consolation try in the 75th minute.

Waikato staged a second half blitz to run out 39-3 victors over Counties Manukau in Hamilton. Waikato led 7-3 in a fairly evenly shared first half after hooker Aled de Malmache scored a try close to the posts in the 15th minute to cancel out an early penalty by Counties fullback Tim Nanai Williams.

But it was a totally different Waikato side the turned up for the second half. Loose forwards Liam Messam, Jack Lam and Steven Setephano, backed by locks Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Toby Lynn, pounded the Counties pack into submission with some outstanding play. With the generous possession delivered by their forwards, the backline ran freely to help their side to 32 unanswered points from four tries, two penalties and three conversions.

Wing Tim Mikkelson grabbed the first try within two minutes of the start of the second half and two minutes later, fullback Sosene Anisi produced the try of the game with an 80 metre runaway effort. Counties, flagging from the heavy defensive load, caved in to allow further tries to Mikkelson and Renata's replacement Sam Christie.

A disciplined display from Southland saw them preserve their 100% record with a 21-16 win over Tasman at Blenheim on Friday night. Robbie Robinson kicked seven penalties to give his side victory in a second half game of chess. Tied at 6-6 at half-time, Robinson's accuracy saw his side home for their fifth win on the trot.

With a highly efficient scrum and lineout, Southland had the superior set piece although Tasman shaded them at the breakdown for a time when the home side's loose trio of Jonathan Poff, Joe Wheeler and Glen Gregory were particularly aggressive before being worn down after the break.

They forced 13 turnovers in the first half alone before Southland tied up their work in this phase after the interval and displayed the watertight defensive patterns that have been such a feature of their brief Ranfurly Shield reign. The number of Tasman breakdown infringements grew in the second half and Robinson did not require a second invitation to efficiently kick his side to victory, landing seven of his eight attempts in a fine display.

Robinson and Steve Alfed had exchanged first-half penaties and Southland led for the first time four minutes into the second spell when Robinson landed this third penalty before doubling the visitors' advantage with his fourth just before the game entered the final quarter. Tasman asked plenty of questions but Southland had the answer everytime, even when hooker Francis Smith burrowed over the line in the 67th minute following a series of relentless forward drives, only for the score to be ruled out by referee Nathan Pearce.

Robinson extended the lead to put the result beyond doubt, but Southland's defensive screens were finally broken down in the closing minutes when replacement back Blair Cook charged on to a short pass before the match ended with more penalties. Although Robinson's extended the lead once more, James Marshall earned a late bonus point for Tasman with an 82nd minute kick.

On Thursday, Taranaki made it four wins on the bounce in this year's tournament with a 25-15 victory over hapless Otago in Dunedin. The visitors had recorded just two previous wins at Carisbrook since 1984 but they started in stirring fashion, posting two tries inside the opening ten minutes. Fullback Beauden Barrett exploited a gaping hole in the Otago defence to cruise through for the first before Craig Clarke touched down two moments later after winning the race for Kurt Baker's grubber.

Glenn Dickson got the home side off the mark with a penalty and they enjoyed a decent spell of possession immediately after. However, crucially, they failed to convert their temporary dominance into points and were promptly punished, Taranaki winger Andre Taylor crossing in the 31st minute after excellent work from Barrett.

That score left Otago an imposing 16 points adrift at the interval. They did manage to raise their game in the second half, however, and drew to within striking distance with 20 minutes to play courtesy of two fine team tries through prop Halani Aulika and lock Hoani Matenga. However, Willie Ripia responded with a penalty for Taranaki, who bossed the final quarter, to inflict a fifth successive defeat upon their beleaguered hosts.

In the weekend's final game, Hawke's Bay accounted for North Harbour 39-29 in Rotorua. Ahead 20-12 at halftime, Bay of Plenty had to work hard to stave off a determined second comeback from Harbour, but three second half tries from Lelia Masaga's secured a six-try bonus-point victory.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry was in the stand, there to evaluate the form of North Harbour's Luke McAlister as a replacement for injured All Blacks pivot Dan Carter for their final Tri-Nations match. McAlister would have done his prospects no harm at all with a solid all-round performance, displaying excellent vision and featuring in two of Harbour's four tries.


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